Overview look at the Historic Fort Snelling

Why was Fort Snelling Built in Minnesota? A visit to the Fort

Fort Snelling is a historic landmark that holds a significant place in the history of Minnesota. It was originally built in the early 1820s as a military outpost for the United States Army.

It was also used as a base for soldiers during the Civil War and processed volunteers during both World Wars.

Today, it serves as a museum and educational center. Visit the fort to see how it shaped the region’s history.

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Visiting the Historic Fort Snelling

Visiting Historic Fort Snelling is something Minnesotans should do at least once in their lives. This summer it was on our to-do list, but we kept getting rained out. Thankfully we were able to make it this past weekend.

It was a lot of fun for both my husband and I, as well as the kids. We learned so much about the history of Minnesota. What we didn’t realize was that most historical events can be traced back to this site.

That’s probably why I’m so excited to share with you about the cool things hiding inside.

Why is Fort Snelling important?

Preserving the history of Fort Snelling is of utmost importance. It was created to protect trade routes along the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers and to strengthen our claim to the land after the War of 1812.

But it wasn’t always what you see today. In 1956, the Minnesota Highway Department planned to build Highway 55 through much of the current grounds.

The only thing they planned on keeping was the round tower, building around it.

Minnesotans’ civilians rushed to the Historic Fort Snellings defense and by 1960, Fort Snelling became the state’s first historical landmark.

While some of the fort is original, much of the barracks are replicas.

Fort Snelling Remembrance

Construction and Design of Fort Snelling

Fort Snelling was built from 1819 to 1825 using limestone from the area. Soldiers, civilians, and enslaved people all worked on its construction.

The fort was designed as a quadrilateral with bastions on each corner. It was strategically located where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers meet.

In the defensive positions around the fort, you’ll see slat openings for musketeers. Thankfully, the fort never saw any kind of conflict over the years.

Over the years, the fort underwent several expansions and renovations to accommodate changing military needs. At one point, the fort was 4.2 miles long, extending to terminal one of the MPLS Airport.

What you see today, is just a fraction of the fort.

History of Historic Fort Snelling

Fort Snelling is an important historical site in Minnesota with a rich and complex history. Archaeologists have documented human activity to at least 9,000–12,000 years ago.

The site of Fort Selling was home to the Dakota for centuries before European settlers arrived. Named Bdote, this was the place where two rivers converged. It is where native people came to fish, hunt, and trade.

It is considered the birthplace of the Dakota people and is held sacred to this day.

But in the last century, Fort Snelling’s primary purpose was as a military post until 1946.

The fur trade

The fort, established by the United States Army in 1819, aimed to protect American interests in the fur trade and keep peace with Native American tribes in the region.

It was originally named Fort St. Anthony in 1825, but was renamed in honor of Col. Josiah Snelling who supervised much of its construction.

The construction was done by enlisted men, paid servants, and slaves. Even though Minnesota was a free state, US Army officers from other parts of the country brought their enslaved people to work there.

Fort Store and Commecery

Dred and Harriet Scott

While there are plenty of enslaved people who stayed and worked at the fort, the most famous are Dred and Harriet Scott. Dred was purchased by Emmerson, an army doctor who was transferred to Fort Snelling.

After arriving, he met Harriet and they were soon married. Ownership of Harriet was transferred to Emmerson, so they could stay together. The Scotts remained at Fort Snelling until 1840.

The Scotts would move around a lot between Free and Slave states and go on to sue for their freedom because of this. Their court case went back and forth with appeals before finally making it to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court decided that African Americans had no rights that white people had to respect, and that it was fair and lawful to enslave them for the benefit of the white man.

The decision effectively declared the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional.

You can learn more about it in Dread Scott v. Sandford.

Dred Scott Home at Fort Snelling

Dakota War

Fort Snelling played a pivotal role in the Dakota War. Thomas Jefferson acquired land from Native Americans by taking advantage of the debt they owed and the declining fur trade.

The Dakota People were deceived into signing perplexing documents and relinquishing their land through this maneuver. Through some improper Indian agents, war erupted.

Fort Snelling was used as a post to train and deploy the US Army further west to locations like the Upper Sioux Agency State Park and Fort Ridgley State Park.

In the aftermath of the Dakota War of 1862, Fort Snelling was used to imprison around 1,600 Dakota men, women, and children in a hastily constructed prison camp.

The conditions were harsh, and many people died from disease and starvation.

The leaders were sent to Mankato, where 38 Dakota Men were hanged in the largest mass execution in US history.

Civil War

During the Civil War, Fort Snelling played a critical role as a training and recruitment center for Minnesota soldiers who fought for the Union.

The fort also served as a strategic location for monitoring Confederate activity in the region.

Horse Saddle at Historic Fort Snelling

World War II

During World War II, more than 300,000 men and women joined the US Military at Fort Snelling. They stayed there, before shipping off to basic training.

In addition, six thousand soldiers studied Japanese at the language school onsite before shipping off.

Despite its turbulent past, the fort remains an essential part of Minnesota’s history and a testament to the challenges and triumphs of America’s past.

Things to Do at Fort Snelling

To fully understand Fort Snelling and our military history, you have to see it for yourself. Here are some things you’ll see on your visit to Fort Snelling:

Plank Museum and Visitors Center

Start at the Plank Museum and Visitors Center. Even if you purchased tickets online, you’ll need to get your admission sticker at the register.

Inside is a gift shop, as well as interactive displays that explain the history of the fort. They do a great job at displaying the darker side of its history too.

Tour of the Fort

Visitors can take a guided or self-guided tour of the fort. The tour includes exploring the various buildings and structures, like the barracks, officers’ quarters, armory, round tower, kitchens, and more.

The fort has been restored to its 1820s appearance, providing an immersive experience of what life was like for soldiers and civilians during that time period.

Guided tours are 1 hr long and run every thirty minutes from the visitor’s center. You’ll get access to rooms most people don’t get to explore on the self-guided tour.

Fun fact: women would make more money at the fort as a laundress than their husbands as a private.

Outside the fort

You’ll get the opportunity to view a lot of memorial gardens and overlooks.

As this place is considered sacred to many Native Americans, these memorials do a great job of reflecting their plight.

One of the most interesting pieces was the Treaty of 108 Memorial. At face value, the treaty gave something both sides wanted.

But just like the memorial, there were gaps in understanding what they meant by it.

Special Events

Fort Snelling hosts a variety of special events throughout the year, such as living history reenactments, cultural festivals, and educational programs.

Tips for Making the Most of a Visit to Fort Snelling

Wear comfortable shoes: You’ll be doing a lot of walking, so wear comfortable shoes that are appropriate for the weather.

Check the weather: Fort Snelling is open year-round, but weather conditions can vary greatly depending on the season. Be sure to check the weather forecast before your visit so you can dress appropriately.

Allow plenty of time: There’s a lot to see and do at Fort Snelling, so plan to spend at least a few hours exploring the site.

Consider a guided tour: Guided tours will give you better insights and a deeper understanding of the history and culture of the site.

Be respectful: Fort Snelling is a historic site and museum, Visitors are expected to be respectful of the site and its artifacts.

Follow the rules and guidelines set forth by the Minnesota Historical Society, and be mindful of other visitors and the historical significance of the site.

Check for special events: Fort Snelling hosts a variety of special events throughout the year. You can see living history reenactments, cultural festivals, and educational programs.

Check the schedule on the Minnesota Historical Society’s website to see if any events are happening during your visit.

Touring Fort Snelling
Walking through Fort Snelling

How much does it cost to go to Fort Snelling?

The admission fee for Fort Snelling is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors (65+) and college students, $8 for children ages 6-17, and free for children ages 5 and under.

There are also discounts available for military members and their families.

Is Fort Snelling Still Active?

Fort Snelling is no longer an active military installation. It was decommissioned as a military post in 1946 and subsequently turned over to the Minnesota Historical Society, which operates it as a historic site and museum.

Today, visitors can explore the restored fort and learn about its history and the role it played in the development of the region.

Where is Fort Snelling?

The historic Fort Snelling is located in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in the United States.

It is situated on the bluffs above the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, near the city of St. Paul, right across from the Minneapolis St. Paul Airport.

The full address of the historic Fort Snelling is 200 Tower Ave, St. Paul, MN 55111.

The Historic Fort Snelling and Fort Snelling State Park are on two separate exits. I highly recommend using GPS to find it.

What else can you do near Fort Snelling?

Minnehaha Regional Park

Located just a few miles from Fort Snelling, Minnehaha Regional Park. It is home to the stunning Minnehaha Falls. Plus there are hiking and biking trails, picnic areas, and more.

You can dive over, or take the trail located in Fort Snelling State Park.

Mall of America

Just a 15-minute drive from Fort Snelling is the Mall of America. It is one of the largest shopping centers in the world. In addition to shopping, you can also enjoy the indoor amusement park, an aquarium, mini golf, and more.

Fort Snelling State Park

Located just south of the fort is Fort Snelling State Park. The park has great hiking trails, biking, fishing, and other outdoor activities.

Make sure to visit Pike Island and see where the Minnesota River and Mississippi River meet.

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge

Located just a few miles from the fort, the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge is a beautiful natural area that offers hiking, wildlife viewing, and other outdoor activities.

Historic Fort Snelling National Cemetery

Located adjacent to the fort, the Historic Fort Snelling Cemetery. It is the final resting place for many soldiers and veterans, including some who served in the Civil War and other conflicts.

Must See Visit

Fort Snelling is a must-see for anyone interested in the history of Minnesota. The fort’s significant role in shaping the region’s history.

From the tour of the fort and special events, there is much to see and do.
When visiting Fort Snelling, remember to be respectful of the site’s historical significance.

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